(WINTER HAVEN, FLA.) – Following the 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti, World Champion Andre Berto (Winter Haven, Fla.) and his older brother, Cleveland, traveled to Port Au Prince, Haiti, to assist in the relief efforts. The Berto brothers teamed up with Project Medishare Chief, Dr. Barth Green, to assist with the much needed medical assistance on the ground. The journal below details the emotions that Berto felt from the time he first learned of the earthquake while in training camp for his title unification fight with Shane Mosley through his trip to Haiti.
Since returning home, Berto has continued to work on the relief efforts from the United States, including the creation of the Berto Dynasty Foundation. In addition he has developed partnerships with Everlast, which launched a signature Andre Berto Haiti Relief t-shirt and Westmark School in Encino, California. Berto and the school have developed a long-term collaboration to adopt a school in Haiti together.
Andre Berto’s Journal – A Fighter’s Fight:
At 5:58 p.m., on January 12, I got the call. I was just returning from the gym, preparing for the biggest fight of my career against Sugar Shane Mosley. I was informed that the island of Haiti was rocked by a massive 7.0 earthquake. I am confused and concerned, but night falls with no idea of how serious the damage is, so all we can do is wait. The morning sun rises and reveals the powerful strength of Mother Nature – thousands of people dead on the streets, people being pulled from the rubble and buildings that were smashed to the ground. As I sat watching CNN, a chilling sensation ran down my spine. I felt the mourning of a nation, a people that I call my own.
Later that night I got a visit from my parents. They walked through my door with the look of exhaustion and worry. I see the pain in my mother and father’s eyes as they try to understand why? A country so beautiful, a nation they call home and hold dear to their hearts; a land that could only withstand so much misery and strife. My mother looks up to the ceiling, her eyes moist with tears looking and asking for answers from above. All I could do was hold her. We stayed up all night trying to call family in Haiti, particularly my older sister Naomi, but with no success.
After three days we finally got word, but it was tragic. My uncle and seven other members of his household were all found dead. They were battered by the concrete blocks that once held their home. But with darkness comes light; my sister Naomi and my niece Jessica were alive. They were walking to a friend’s house at the time of the earthquake when their home collapsed. So for now they wander the streets with the rest of the homeless looking for shelter and food. Walking the streets at night they hear the screams and cries of men, women, and children still under the rubble.
January 30th was supposed to be the biggest fight of my career – the type of fight that every young fighter dreams about against a living legend. With the fight only a few weeks away, I tried my best to stay focused on the task at hand. Stay on the same grueling routine I’ve endured for the past eight weeks of training camp. But at this point with every mile I run and every punch I throw, I can’t help but think of my reality. I go to the bathroom to wash my face and help clear my mind. I pause as the water drips from my chin. I look up to my reflection only to see the eyes of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the face of Jean-Jacques Dessalines – the great Haitian revolutionary leaders that freed the country in 1804. Spirits that now cry for her children’s help. They say the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands during times of challenge and controversy. I had to decide to cancel a dream fight in Las Vegas, but now I have a much bigger cause to fight for in Haiti.
With help from Project Medishare and Dr. Barth Green, my brother Cleveland and I were on a plane to Haiti; a flight I spent in heavy thought. Images of the schools and orphanages we once brought aide to a few months ago race through my head. Now they are gone. Sitting back thinking within myself, I am mentally prepared for what I’m going to see. The graphic images on TV made it look like hell on earth and in an hour or so; we’re going to be right in the trenches.
When the plane lands and the door is open, it seems like I’ve walked into a nightmare. The Caribbean sky is still filled with the smoke and dust from the rubble. Army trucks are everywhere, big jumbo planes are bringing in cargo aide and supplies. Helicopters are passing overhead; it feels like I walked into a war zone. We made the ride over to the Project Medishare hospital, which was the biggest tent hospital on the ground. As I’m walking into the tent hospital, I stop and made eye contact w/ my brother Cleveland. At that point we made it clear that whatever was behind those doors we had to be ready.
As the doors slowly opened, I walked in and just stood watching hundreds of patients fighting for their lives. I dropped my bag and went straight to work helping the doctors any way I could. I witnessed hundreds of kids covered in bandages, crying for parents that they’ll never see again, and asking to go back to a home that is no more.
When I walk through the aisle, a little girl grabbed my pant leg, and I stopped and looked at her. She had a smile that could light up the darkest day, corn rows in her head, and a little necklace with an angel on it. I asked her what her name was, and she said Measha. I told her she was beautiful, and she responded “Thank You” (in Creole). Then she asked me if I could fix her leg because it has been hurting. She pulled the blanket back and her leg had been amputated. I looked in her eyes with emotions leaking from my heart and couldn’t believe how much strength this little girl had. As I looked around the room there were hundreds of patients that wanted that same comfort. On the other side of the tent, I see a handful of doctors rushing over to a patient who just went into cardiac arrest. I walk over to see this wonderful team of doctors try to bring this man back to life but with no success. The doctors shook their heads in disappointment. They pick him up and walk him out, another life lost. I am overwhelmed. I cannot begin to understand why God allows these things to happen. I don’t try to understand. I just have faith.
As hours pass and the day ends it is clear that everyone is physically and emotionally drained. It’s 2 a.m., and we leave the hospital and go to the house that we’re staying. I lay down on the cot sleep knowing there are others buried and pleading for help. I can see their faces in my dreams and hear their cries.
The days ahead we spent some time driving through the streets of Port Au Prince, I see building after building crushed to the ground. The city air is congested with the smell of dead on the streets and still under the rubble. We see tent fields filled with thousands of people that have lost everything but are still doing what they can to survive. Western Union lines wrap around street corners as people get money from their loved ones in the States. There are long lines of Haitian women with big pots stirring and cooking their hearts out and distributing food throughout the tent camps. I made a stop at the Presidential Palace. They were hundreds of people outside the gates just looking to see how such a massive building with so much history could be crushed so easily.
Back at the Medishare hospital a truck pulled up with a father and his daughter. His daughter was unconscious. I picked her up and carried her into the hospital. When I laid her down, she opens her eyes and I tell her it’s going to be okay. I didn’t think anything was wrong with her. There were no cuts or bruises. But not five minutes later, she falls into cardiac arrest. Doctors rip her shirt open and start CPR. The father starts to yell and cry. I grab him and tell him to relax and he tells me she is all he has because everyone else is dead. The doctors revived her three times before she passed. Her father grips my shirt in pain and sorrow and falls to his knees. Wow…… It’s hard to imagine a parent losing their child and actually witnessing her death. I assisted some workers in placing the young girl in a body bag.
Another day and another life lost, but many were saved. It felt good to see doctors and volunteers from all around the world helping with Haiti’s efforts. Within all the pain and hurt I’ve seen so much strength.
On random late nights, I walk around the hospital camp outside and hear lovely sounds of old Haitian spirituals of faith coming through the hospital tents. My heart fills with joy and pride knowing that the strength of the Haitian history still shows proudly today. Throughout all the suffering Haiti has been through over the years, these are the people of 1804, the first free black republic.
Andre Berto is the World Boxing Council Welterweight World Champion and maintains a perfect 25-0 record as a professional. An accomplished amateur with numerous national titles, Berto represented Haiti in the 2004 Olympic Games.